Greenwald On The Reporting Of The NSA's Recent Denials: So, Now We Trust The Liars?

from the maybe-it's-the-uniforms... dept

The NSA has taken a different approach to addressing the recent leaks involving the surveillance of foreign officials (and foreign citizens). Rather than limit itself to bland statements about oversight and legal framework, the NSA has chosen to claim the reporting is "misleading," if not flat out wrong. (The NSA and the administration are also taking turns throwing each other under the bus. While this is very amusing, it does very little to address the veracity of the leaks…)

Glenn Greenwald notes on his blog that these recent tactics have a hint of desperation about them, considering they were only deployed after news broke of the NSA's surveillance of high-level foreign officials.

[T]hese exact same Boundless Informant documents have been used by newspapers around the world in exactly the same way for months. The NSA never claimed they were inaccurate until yesterday: when it is engulfed by major turmoil over spying on European allies.
The same documents the agency now claims are wrong or misleading have been public for months now, but it's only now, after the administration and Sen. Feinstein turned on the NSA, that Gen. Alexander and James Clapper are pushing the narrative that the documents themselves are being misinterpreted. Greenwald points out that both have been very careful not to deny the gist of the story itself (large scale collection of foreign phone metadata) but rather that the slides deployed by reporters in Spain and France are being misread.

The agency also made the dubious decision to implicate the foreign intelligence agencies that feed them information in hopes of undermining the reporting (as well as spreading the blame.
[T]he fact some of this data is collected by virtue of cooperation with a country's own intelligence service does not contradict our reporting. To the contrary: the secret cooperation between some European intelligence agencies and the NSA has been a featured part of our reporting from the start…

The NSA spies extensively with (but rarely on) its four closest, English-speaking surveillance allies in the "Five Eyes" group: the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. But for many European nations, the NSA cooperates with those nations' intelligence services but also spies on their populations and their governments without any such cooperation. That negates none of our reporting: it is simply a restatement of it.
The NSA seems to be running short on credible counter-arguments. Many representatives in DC simply aren't buying the lines about "oversight" and "legality" any more. Even its defenders have begun distancing themselves. So, it's decided to start casting doubt on those reporting on the leaks. Fair enough, I suppose. There are many rhetorical tactics it could deploy and seeding doubt by questioning the reporting is just one of them. The problem is that the press in general has been more than happy to give the NSA's responses a credibility they haven't earned.
NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander asserted yesterday that two "Boundless Informant" slides we published - one in Le Monde and the other in El Mundo - were misunderstood and misinterpreted. The NSA then dispatched various officials to the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post to make the same claim, and were (needless to say) given anonymity by those papers to spout off without accountability. Several US journalists (also needless to say) instantly treated the NSA's claims as gospel even though they (a) are accompanied by no evidence, (b) come in the middle of a major scandal for the agency at home and abroad and (c) are from officials with a history of lying to Congress and the media.
Sadly, despite a very long history (that spans several administrations) of general untrustworthiness in both intelligence agencies and administrations themselves, government officials (even those speaking from under the cover of anonymity) are instantly given more credibility than any journalist, even when those officials have the most to gain by lying.

Journalists who consistently lie or are repeatedly inaccurate tend to be speedily expelled from the system. Government and intelligence officials who lie tend to remain employed, or at worst, exit via the revolving door, landing well-paying gigs in the private sector. Journalists have the most to lose, while government officials (especially when granted anonymity) have nearly nothing to lose, not if the misstatements and disinformation help shore up the narrative.

Knowing this, why would journalists take these statements at face value? Even worse, why would they help the government PR machine by publishing a narrative handed to them by a faceless, nameless "official" who has everything to gain from spinning the story? That's not journalism. That's "reporting."

Greenwald quotes the EFF's Trevor Timm on this baffling attitude.
"Oh, NSA says a story about them is wrong? Well, that settles that! Thankfully, they never lie, obfuscate, mislead, misdirect, or misinform!"
Greenwald has taken a lot of heat for his lack of objectivity, but judging from this, more journalists need to be questioning statements coming from "officials" looking desperately for a place to plant their unreliable narratives. Four months of the NSA having to eat the words of each previous denial after each new leak should be more than enough proof that if its collective lips are moving, it's lying. At best, it's offering its least egregious "untruths."


Reader Comments (rss)

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2013 @ 11:44am

    the one Greenwald needs to watch very closely is Cameron in the UK. now this new reporting/journalism thing or whatever it is has gone through, he is going to be looking for ways to make whistle blowing illegal, particularly if it involves the UK government. the bigger problem we have and it's gonna get worse, is how far are the people gonna be pushed before they push back against government/corporate takeover?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2013 @ 11:44am

    He's probably still upset about the UK detaining his partner under terrorist laws.

     

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    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Oct 31st, 2013 @ 12:05pm

    Same with Google's denials! Think co-conspirators will just ADMIT it?

    They'll stonewall to the last second, then figure out some weasel so they didn't really lie -- easiest way is already prepared, just claim NSA prevented them from "transparency".

    None of you have any actual reason to trust Google. You just so desperately want to believe that part of the corporatocracy is on your side that you won't even hear the questions!

    Google is definitely a SPY AGENCY. It's spying on ALL of us right now. There's NO form of spying that's "nice". Google is definitely unreliable because won't tell us how much spying it does, how, or what it does with our information. It's like someone who poses as your friend but rummages through all your stuff -- especially your underwear -- sneak copies contact list from your phone, looks through the lock box you keep under the bed and copies down everything, and uses anything and everything learned for his own benefit or amusement, possibly revenge if caught... GOOGLE IS A CREEPY SNEAK. All spies are.

    And LYING is an inherent part of SPYING.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2013 @ 12:08pm

      Re: Same with Google's denials! Think co-conspirators will just ADMIT it?

      * facepalm *

      You have a government agency out of control, and you are worried with a private corporation that can be taken down with a simple court order?

      You need to fix the government first before you fix anything else, you know?

       

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      out_of_the_blue (profile), Oct 31st, 2013 @ 12:16pm

      Re: Same with Google's denials! Think co-conspirators will just ADMIT it?

      The only reason I said the above is because I woke up suddenly, after having a nightmare about the G, only to feel the damp mattress beneath my legs. The G caused that, only the G, never the NSA! Since I'm the only one freaked out about the G here, then it's automatically true that they're the biggest threat to mankind.

       

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        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2013 @ 12:29pm

        Re: Re: Same with Google's denials! Think co-conspirators will just ADMIT it?

        And then you people wonder why "nobody" takes Techdirt seriously, other than other fringe lunatics that, though often having good points, scare people away with gimmicks like this.

        What you are doing isn't hilarious. It isn't witty. It isn't even particularly well executed. It is sad, pathetic and stupid.

        You are "harassing" (not quite the right word, but I can't think of anything better) someone just because you disagree with him/her.

        This says a lot about you...whoever you are.

         

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          out_of_the_blue (profile), Oct 31st, 2013 @ 12:37pm

          Re: Re: Re: Same with Google's denials! Think co-conspirators will just ADMIT it?

          "And then you people wonder why "nobody" takes Techdirt seriously, other than other fringe lunatics that, though often having good points, scare people away with gimmicks like this."

          Mike, care to rebut with how many views TD gets per day? Also, roughly how many professional quality publications cite TD articles? I know there's a quote somewhere on this site about how the Wall Street Journal loves TD.

          "What you are doing isn't hilarious. It isn't witty. It isn't even particularly well executed. It is sad, pathetic and stupid." So...? I'm not trying to be funny. I'm not trying to be witty. I'm trying to out-troll the troll. It is MEANT to be sad, pathetic and stupid. So thank you for telling me that I hit the mark. I'm merely repeating what the real OOTB says and jacking it up to 11.
          "You are "harassing" (not quite the right word, but I can't think of anything better) someone just because you disagree with him/her."
          I agree, not quite the right word, but we'll use it. Please, define for me harassment. I don't see how what I'm writing is harassment. If I were to draw a caricature of Obama with a speech balloon saying "Duh...I dunno what NSA is doing", would that be harassment? That's pretty much what I'm doing here. Besides, how do I harass someone whose identity I don't know? All we know is the online handle. That's it.

           

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            identicon
            Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2013 @ 1:17pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Same with Google's denials! Think co-conspirators will just ADMIT it?

            "Mike, care to rebut with how many views TD gets per day?"

            It's funny that you think that Mike has any obligation to cover you for your own asshattery.

            Regardless, just check how many comments this site gets per day now, and compare that with a few years ago. It used to get articles with HUNDREDS of comments in the most hotly debated topics. Now, you get a handful of "I agree" comments. People started leaving somewhere around the time the insightful/funny/report buttons were introduced.



            Regarding the rest, you can tap dance around it however you like it. The truth is, you're being a jackass ten times worse than out_of_the_blue ever was at any point. But I think that I understand. Sometimes it is hard to deal with viewpoints different than ours.

             

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              identicon
              Anonymous Coward, Nov 1st, 2013 @ 4:04pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Same with Google's denials! Think co-conspirators will just ADMIT it?

              You're treating someone trolling ootb as if they were ootb. Might want to get your sarcasmometer adjusted.

               

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          Rapnel (profile), Oct 31st, 2013 @ 1:15pm

          Re: Re: Re: Same with Google's denials! Think co-conspirators will just ADMIT it?

          ...
          This says a lot about you...whoever you are.


          That's about a book right there..

           

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            identicon
            Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2013 @ 1:18pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Same with Google's denials! Think co-conspirators will just ADMIT it?

            In retrospect, that was a bad finale, I should've edited that out. But what's done is done.

            Plus, I'm AC, no harm done :)

             

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    mcinsand, Oct 31st, 2013 @ 12:23pm

    where did we see this behavioral pattern before???

    This morning, after reading John Steele's self-discrediting performance in Judge Wright's court ( http://ia601508.us.archive.org/28/items/gov.uscourts.cacd.543744/gov.uscourts.cacd.543744.232.0.pdf ), the similarities between Steele's and the NSA's obfuscatorial tapdancing really hit me in the face. Perhaps, if Steele had copyrighted, trademarked, or patented his methods for a person with no credibility to still discredit himself further, then maybe Steele could have a legitimate lawsuit on his hands; he could sue the NSA for infringement.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2013 @ 2:07pm

    This is the point I've been raising (though not as eloquently)about not being able to believe the NSA and what they, the politicians that support them, and the administration that up till recently has been running interference for them.

    Since they didn't come at at the start with the honest admittance nor tried in any way to acknowledge wrongdoing, that nothing you hear from them can be believed. The very point they fail to acknowledge it was wrong tells you just what sort of mindset is guiding the whole outfit.

    I understand that spying is done. I understand that pretty much all countries do it. But the NSA has exceeded it's authority and it's guide lines. Saying it is legal changes not one iota that bad laws can be revoked on constitutional grounds and are often done that way in court. That is why the administration has been so hell bent on using lack of standing and national security to prevent this from surfacing in court.

    The cat is out of the bag with more following it. All the good will and creditability has been squandered and no one any longer believes any authority saying good about the NSA nor of government operations either. The polls certainly reflect this in their approval ratings.

     

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      John Fenderson (profile), Oct 31st, 2013 @ 2:50pm

      Re:

      I understand that pretty much all countries do it.


      (I know that you didn't put this forth as an excuse, but this line triggered a tangentially related thought).

      Using that as a reason that it's OK for the US to do it is quickly becoming a pet peeve of mine.

      For those who put this forth as an actual argument, my first thought is: what are you, 12? My second thought is connected to the fact that most of the people saying this are also people who believe in "American exceptionalism": if America is so exceptional, then why are we setting our moral compass according to what all the other nations do? Shouldn't we, I dunno, be exceptional?

       

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      art guerrilla (profile), Oct 31st, 2013 @ 4:53pm

      Re:

      at AC (lonyo? is that you)
      "I understand that spying is done. I understand that pretty much all countries do it."

      oh do you, indeed ? ? ?

      please, here is a list of countries, tell me which ones you think are tapping into the main trunk lines of the telecommunications system...
      ...you know, 'cause 'they all do it'...

      Afghanistan
      Akrotiri
      Albania
      Algeria
      American Samoa
      Andorra
      Angola
      Anguilla
      Antarctica
      Antigua and Barbuda
      Argentina
      Armenia
      Aruba
      Ashmore and Cartier Islands
      Australia
      Austria
      Azerbaijan
      Bahamas, The
      Bahrain
      Bangladesh
      Barbados
      Bassas da India
      Belarus
      Belgium
      Belize
      Benin
      Bermuda
      Bhutan
      Bolivia
      Bosnia and Herzegovina
      Botswana
      Bouvet Island
      Brazil
      British Indian Ocean Territory
      British Virgin Islands
      Brunei
      Bulgaria
      Burkina Faso
      Burma
      Burundi
      Cambodia
      Cameroon
      Canada
      Cape Verde
      Cayman Islands
      Central African Republic
      Chad
      Chile
      China
      Christmas Island
      Clipperton Island
      Cocos (Keeling) Islands
      Colombia
      Comoros
      Congo, Democratic Republic of the
      Congo, Republic of the
      Cook Islands
      Coral Sea Islands
      Costa Rica
      Cote d'Ivoire
      Croatia
      Cuba
      Cyprus
      Czech Republic
      Denmark
      Dhekelia
      Djibouti
      Dominica
      Dominican Republic
      Ecuador
      Egypt
      El Salvador
      Equatorial Guinea
      Eritrea
      Estonia
      Ethiopia
      Europa Island
      Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)
      Faroe Islands
      Fiji
      Finland
      France
      French Guiana
      French Polynesia
      French Southern and Antarctic Lands
      Gabon
      Gambia, The
      Gaza Strip
      Georgia
      Germany
      Ghana
      Gibraltar
      Glorioso Islands
      Greece
      Greenland
      Grenada
      Guadeloupe
      Guam
      Guatemala
      Guernsey
      Guinea
      Guinea-Bissau
      Guyana
      Haiti
      Heard Island and McDonald Islands
      Holy See (Vatican City)
      Honduras
      Hong Kong
      Hungary
      Iceland
      India
      Indonesia
      Iran
      Iraq
      Ireland
      Isle of Man
      Israel
      Italy
      Jamaica
      Jan Mayen
      Japan
      Jersey
      Jordan
      Juan de Nova Island
      Kazakhstan
      Kenya
      Kiribati
      Korea, North
      Korea, South
      Kuwait
      Kyrgyzstan
      Laos
      Latvia
      Lebanon
      Lesotho
      Liberia
      Libya
      Liechtenstein
      Lithuania
      Luxembourg
      Macau
      Macedo nia
      Madagascar
      Malawi
      Malaysia
      Maldives
      Mali
      Malta
      Marshall Islands
      Martinique
      Mauritania
      Mauritius
      Mayotte
      Mexico
      Micronesia, Federated States of
      Moldova
      Monaco
      Mongolia
      Montserrat
      Morocco
      Mozambique
      Namibia
      Nauru
      Navassa Island
      Nepal
      Netherlands
      Netherlands Antilles
      New Caledonia
      New Zealand
      Nicaragua
      Niger
      Nigeria
      Niue
      Norfolk Island
      Northern Mariana Islands
      Norway
      Oman
      Pakistan
      Palau
      Panama
      Papua New Guinea
      Paracel Islands
      Paraguay
      Peru
      Philippines
      Pitcairn Islands
      Poland
      Portugal
      Puerto Rico
      Qatar
      Reunion
      Romania
      Russia
      Rwanda
      Saint Helena
      Saint Kitts and Nevis
      Saint Lucia
      Saint Pierre and Miquelon
      Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
      Samoa
      San Marino
      Sao Tome and Principe
      Saudi Arabia
      Senegal
      Serbia and Montenegro
      Seychelles
      Sierra Leone
      Singapore
      Slovakia
      Slovenia
      Solomon Islands
      Somalia
      South Africa
      South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
      Spain
      Spratly Islands
      Sri Lanka
      Sudan
      Suriname
      Svalbard
      Swaziland
      Sweden
      Switzerland
      Syria
      Taiwan
      Tajikistan
      Tanzania
      Thailand
      Timor-Leste
      Togo
      Tokelau
      Tonga
      Trinidad and Tobago
      Tromelin Island
      Tunisia
      Turkey
      Turkmenistan
      Turks and Caicos Islands
      Tuvalu
      Uganda
      Ukraine
      United Arab Emirates
      United Kingdom
      United States
      Uruguay
      Uzbekistan
      Vanuatu
      Venezuela
      Vietnam
      Virgin Islands
      Wake Island
      Wallis and Futuna
      West Bank
      Western Sahara
      Yemen
      Zambia
      Zimbabwe

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2013 @ 8:08pm

        Re: Re:

        China, UK, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, France, India, Russia, Sweden, South Africa, Israel, Pakistan, Egypt, Brazil, North Korea, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Holy See all do it .. not sure about the rest..but I bet there are more.

         

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          art guerrilla (profile), Nov 1st, 2013 @ 6:35am

          Re: Re: Re:

          1. bwaaa ha ha ha haaaa citation ?

          2. great, that's a couple handful out of over 200 countries that even if i concede they are doing *some* level of spying, there is NO WAY they are 'all' (*cough*cough*) doing it at the level that uncle sam is doing, NO EFFING WAY...
          so a couple handful = 'all' ? ? ?

          3. WHOEVER is doing it to the extent WE ARE (WHICH IS NO ONE), are scumbags JUST LIKE US...

          4. besides, as another poster pointed out above, i don't want my country performing to the lowest common denominator, i want it acting BETTER than is required for ethical behavior... presently, we are not...

          art guerrilla
          aka ann archy
          eof

           

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    identicon
    Stephen A, Oct 31st, 2013 @ 3:34pm

    Maybe the best indication of the state of the NSA in this whole surveillance scandal isn't that they performed this way-to-intrusive spying in the first place.

    It might well have been their response. When lies, threats and ambiguous statements are your response to revelations of a total disregard of basic human rights, you've got a serious integrity problem here.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 31st, 2013 @ 7:02pm

    Yeah - spying on the little people, no big deal

    OMG ! spying on big shots with power and influence??? Holy crap, there's gonna be hell to pay.

     

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    icon
    Ninja (profile), Nov 1st, 2013 @ 2:47am

    Yeah, I will take care of your girls! - Fox while assuring farmer he would take good care of the hen.

     

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